Ageing and Society

Articles

Social networks and subjective wellbeing among older Europeans: does age make a difference?

HOWARD LITWINa1a2 c1 and KIMBERLY J. STOECKELa2

a1 Paul Baerwald School of Social Work & Social Welfare, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

a2 Israel Gerontological Data Center, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

ABSTRACT

This inquiry examined whether social networks are associated with wellbeing among older-old people in the same way that they are among younger-old persons. The study focused on family respondents, aged 60 and older, from the second wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (N=14,728). The statistical analysis regressed two wellbeing measures (the CASP quality of life scale and life satisfaction) on a range of social network variables from three domains: family structure and interaction, social exchange and social engagement. In addition, the inquiry viewed these associations through the lens of age-based interaction terms, controlling for background characteristics, health status and region. The analysis revealed that the associations between subjective wellbeing and social network vary according to age. Among younger-old respondents, aged 60–79, more significant associations were found between social network variables and wellbeing outcomes in comparison to older-old respondents, aged 80 or older. Differences between age groups also emerged with the direction of the associations between social network variables and subjective wellbeing. The study results reveal that social networks do matter in very old age, but not in the same way as among younger-old persons. This finding is one indication of the differences that may emerge between third-age adults and those approaching the fourth age.

(Accepted May 21 2012)

(Online publication July 16 2012)

KEY WORDS

  • older-old;
  • SHARE;
  • exchange;
  • engagement;
  • CASP;
  • life satisfaction

Correspondence

c1 Address for correspondence: Howard Litwin, Israel Gerontological Data Center, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905-IL, Israel. E-mail: mshowie@huji.ac.il